This week’s guest contributor is my friend, Alison Kramer, owner of Nummies and Mama to three beautiful little ones. A writer, Waldorf parent, lover of hot yoga, reluctant runner and certified twitter addict, you can read more stuff by and about Alison on her blog here and on her “What I Learned Today” posts.
We use our senses to make decisions and whether we like it or not, how something looks matters.
How we look matters. Our perception of others is rarely clear, or vise versa. Rather we see one another through a series of culturally created lenses.
Whether we build relationships online or not, we usually will eventually come face to face. At which point there are no logos to hide behind and no airbrush that can help us.
We all start with a basic collection of features and things that make us who we are. Gender, ethnicity, race, ability, size and others are all parts of a package we carry around with us in the world. These shape not only our experience, but how we are perceived and experienced by others. Of course, these are not changeable, nor should they be. If you don’t want to do business with a short Jewish woman than that is your problem, not mine.
The question arises when we look at things we can change, like how we dress.
Like many of you reading this, I own my own business. To me, there are three major advantages to this (you will please note they are not piles of money and free time).
1. My work is my passion.
2. I surround myself with amazing people who support, challenge and inspire.
3. I have the freedom to look and dress as I please.
For me, this means mostly Grateful Dead t-shirts, ripped jeans and no make up. This is me, I like me and I have the benefit of being my own boss – I will not lose my position with the company or receive a memo about proper attire at work. Studies have shown that I am more intelligent and productive when I wear flip-flops.
The issue is this:
Am I doing the right thing and do I lose out on potential business for my company because of the way I look?
I have found that it is generally expected that I look a certain way, especially to those who have come to respect me online or love my brand and product before we meet. I have seen people clearly turned off when they realize the woman whose accomplishments they looked up to moments before appears to be in her 20’s (actually 34, just genetics and hot yoga)
On a business trip to New York a few weeks ago, for the first time in years, I chose to wear shoes that hurt my feet only because I wanted to look good. They lasted about three hours (the blisters longer). When I visit retailers, go to trade shows and meet prospective clients, I do dress up a bit. I walk a line of compromise – where I can still be myself selling and marketing my product, while not needing to fight their perceptions at every turn.
I have been thinking more and more that I should just forget that and do as I please.
I may lose some customers, but I can come out the other side with a stronger brand and message. It is a similar discussion to that of a writer or speaker who swears when they speak and/or, writes. Should they? Can they? Why change? I might even empower those to whom I sell, the new mom and small boutique owner, to embrace their inner Dead t-shirt and be true to themselves.
Now, I do recognize that there is a congruency possible here that might not exist if I sold insurance or was a banker, but the same time it can still hold true in many industries. And in the end, how someone looks should not keep us from the best possible product or service.
Whether we like it or not, how we appear makes a difference in business.
Looking young, or old for that matter, being a woman or a man, how we dress, these things all change how people react to the message we are sharing…sometimes for the better, but not always.
The take home message for me is that like anything else, we have to be true to who we are, but also remember that when we put ourselves out there we cannot control how others will take us. If like me, you are your brand and how you look is an advantage and benefit of the long hours of entrepreneurial toil – I say, rock that t-shirt and lets see who is in the market for that.
What has been your experience with perception and business?
Have you ever met any one in real life after building a relationship online and had your perceptions shattered or improved?
Should I pack my uncomfortable shoes for BlogWorld?
Would love to hear from you.
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